They say that it takes seven years to become a totally new person. For every cell in your body to die and be replaced with a new cell- new skin, new blood, new kidneys, new bones. That every seven years or so your body is made of entirely different microscopic bits than seven years before, and the only connection you share with your former self is that your cells are replicating based on the same set of instructions, and that memories remain even as your brain changes in its endless cycle of renewal and rebirth.
But sometimes, it only takes a moment, and you are completely different than you were before.
There are some things that turn your former body into a shadow, erase it, and you must begin the process of building a new self from scratch, cell by cell, healing it and honing it back to a form you might someday recognize.
There are some things that steal your body from you, but unlike the gradual march of the birth and death of cells, they take existential self with them. Leave you unable to name yourself, to feel your skin as your own, your face as anything other than a mask obscuring a screaming chasm of nameless pain.
I had barely gotten comfortable in my second version of myself when I went through a rapid rebirth, from an outgoing and friendly fourteen year old to a victim of rape, a shell shocked phantom watching a stranger swallow fistful after fistful of pills where my reflection should have been. That I didn’t die was luck and coincidence, but my doctor and I both know- I should have. I shouldn’t have been alive to put my body back together into a shape I could recognize, that I could own.
And before I could see that new me, that new body follow its cellular life cycle and renew itself, it happened again.
I write this, not because I feel burdened to talk about it, but because I feel compelled. I need to speak on behalf of strangers who occupy a body they don’t know, waiting either to learn its secrets or to wait out its brief life span, who cannot put words to the feelings of lostness and confusion that come with the core of your identity being hijacked and exploited.
April is Sexual Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. And now you, reader, are aware that I- the mother of three young girls and the writer of this blog- am a survivor of sexual violence.
What I am constantly aware of is how close men are when they walk behind me, even in the middle of the day. How long the elevator rides are from the parking garage to a doctor’s office is. That one in three women will be a victim of sexual violence in her lifetime. One in three, and those odds bode poorly for my daughters.
Because no amount of education I offer my girls can completely protect them, because it is never the job of the victim of a crime to have prevented it. I am aware of that. I am aware that my language matters. That if I send off my daughters to college with date-rape-drug detecting nail polish and date-rape-drug detecting drinking straws, a suitcase full of anti-rape underwear, and lovely rape whistle jewelry, I’m telling them now it’s their job to protect themselves, and only their job.
That might be awareness, but it’s not what prevention is. Prevention is when we stop rapists from raping.
And it sure as shit shouldn’t be confined to a single month out of the year.
Every single day, for every single person, should be rape prevention day. Every day should be a day when we call people out for misogynistic and objectifying language. When we remember that a victim is a victim, they’re not suddenly a criminal whose flavor of felony is false accusation. We should remember that false rape reports happen on the same proportion of false reports of ANY crime. And most importantly, we should remember what rapists look like.
They look like normal, everyday people, walking around the same streets as us, shopping in the same stores, using the same trains, watching the same television shows.
They think it’s normal to rape, because when they make a joke about rape, their friends laugh. They think it’s normal to rape, because Mike Tyson gets to have his own TV show and be on Dancing with the Stars, and Jameis Winston is going to be a first round draft pick this weekend, and Ke$ha probably just wanted all the attention of being a victim, didn’t she?
And the really screwed up part is that yes, it is normal, because most of us aren’t doing anything about it. Because in any room full of women, everybody has a story, if not about being raped, about a time they were sure they were going to be. It’s not paranoia if what you fear is what is normal. Normal and acceptable are not the same thing. Just because a thing is normal, that doesn’t make it right.
For this last week of Rape Awareness and Prevention Month, think about that.
Think about it when we should be celebrating rape prevention.
Think about it every day.
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